Pic of Book CoverFrank Hemstead, or Hempstead, was born in Athlone, Ireland in 1918, the son of Frank Hempstead Senior, a conscript in the British Army, who was stationed in Athlone Barracks during the First World War. His mother was Elizabeth Nally, a local woman from Clonbonny just outside the town. After the war, Frank senior was demobbed; so he set off with his wife and child for London, where Elizabeth died soon afterwards. After this sad event, young Frank was brought back, as a babe-in-arms, to Clonbonny in the Irish Midlands; where he was brought up by his granny and his uncles.

In his book, which was edited by Geoffrey Foy, Frank tells of the traditions and folklore of this southeast corner of County Westmeath. We learn of the Longworths, the local landlords, Clonmacnois and the Shannon floods. Frank's roots are in the callows (water meadows) of "Nally Country", where evicted tenants were forced to eke out a living on tiny holdings of cutaway bog.

Frank was steeped in the lore of cot (boat) funerals to Clonmacnoise, piseogs (superstitions), the meitheal (neighbours helping each other), threshing, saving hay on the Long Island, cattle driving, Black and Tans and The Troubles. As we turn the pages we stalk wild geese, set eel lines and hear the cry of the banshee.

Clonbonny School was Frank's academy and he tells us that he took to school "like a duck to water". In his tribute to his teacher Miss Mary Ghent we sense the wide-eyed wonderment of a schoolchild in the early years of the Free State.

In the final section of the book, Frank laments the demise of the corncrake and yellowhammer and the destruction of the bold peasantry that lived along the banks of the Shannon River. His book is full of colourful Hiberno-English words and expressions, all of which have now winged their way into cyberspace, thanks to BREENWEBZ.

To the memory of the Nallys who took me in, my wife Elizabeth, and the people of Clonbonny.

Frank Hemstead       December 1994

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